Coney Island (Passover Edition)

4/25/2008 6:24 AM

Yesterday we went to Coney Island. A lot more than that actually happened, but the trip to the edge of New York was the most interesting part. TO get there we had to bring Mason to the doctor (don’t like this orthopedist) and do a few other things. Chandler’s new friend Jasmine came by and woke her at the crack of 11 after Lennox and I had failed and she went out and floated around the big six schmoozing and kibitzing on the grounds. The fact that she’s made friends is probably the biggest news of this break, but today I’m writing about Coney Island.

We took the train and I started to write a poem before the other adults had found me. I’ll try and include the two lines and the idea here in a bit, but I was in a foul mood after the cost of escape velocity from our apartment was a huge fight with Mason about the brace that he is supposed to wear and Linda just exempted him from wearing after I had fought, been cried at, insulted and changed multiple shoes, laced braces and new shoes and generally acted like a butthead. As I treat my wasted ankle at 48 I think about how Mason should “____(insert macho platitude here) ” to insure his athletic future.

We drove to the cousins’ house and took the F to the park. It was a fun ride with the kids running up and down the car looking out the window at the various sights below the F on McDonald Ave. My favorite is the Jewish Cemetery that you float over looking down at a century of graves (with some new shiny laser etched ones near the tracks so you can kinda see the eternal portraits chosen by the next of kin. It is in much better shape than Mt. Zion over here in Woodside/Maspeth which has me thinking about the anecdotal nature of the conclusions I’ve been drawing about Jewish cemeteries from my runs here in Queens.

The excitement of the park fully grabbed me as we crossed over Surf Avenue from the train. It is great how you can make it straight from the W. 8th street Stillwell Ave station to the boardwalk with out having to touch the “common” ground of the city: I felt like I was floating over my cares and worries associated with life in NYC. Now, needless to say after my journal entry yesterday about Great Adventure I was not in the mood to totally forgive the Amusement Park Gods, but the fact that I was in New York and I hadn’t been hazed by a two our car ride or a $15 parking fee put me in a mood more amenable.

As we turned onto the boardwalk by the Aquarium I saw another reminder of the previous day’s excesses: a sea of Hasidim in black and white. Again the shock of seeing people whom I think of as particularly reserved and clannish out at the great American amusement park (really great and American, not the six flags/paramount llc brand) further reduced my resistance to the deities of common diversion. As we turned off the boardwalk and descended the stairs to Astroland I was literally shocked at how insanely crowded it was in April. Even in July and August it is generally not that crowded, and this time it was about ½ orthodox and conservative Jews. It was like looking at a puzzle or a test pattern where the dominant motifs (black and white) are overplayed for effect. It was stunning and beautiful aesthetically, a bit overwhelming as a parent and a consumer.

We finally decided -when we moved passed the two families that had simply stopped to consult and provision themselves where the line should have been- to get the POP wristbands (Pay One Price) for the kids. It was dear, nearly $80 for our kids, but, in truth, Linda and I had not been required to get them, so I guess there’s a built in savings (I later found a discarded wrist band and put it on for one ride in Dante’s Inferno), but that was well after dark and towards the end of this tale. Chandler and Mason were good eggs and didn’t just shoot off for the bigger kid rides but shepherded the younger ones from ride to ride and rode the ones that weren’t too humiliating for big kids. The Log Flume, on a warm spring day was a great treat, and we even bought the picture of them descending with ______, whom they met in line at the tilt-a-whirl.

There was an orgy of rides, all salt-and-peppered with the uniformly uniquely dressed Hasidim filling in about 2/3 of most of the lines. People who don’t usually go to amusement parks are a bit awkward with all the protocols and the fact that Coney Island Astroland doesn’t have a single serpentine queue structure made a lot of the day look like an ultra-polite version of a commodity trading floor with parents bidding to get their kids on rides: “there’s a seat over there, take my little Juan or Shlomo or Brittany or Latoya. It was all good natured and I didn’t see a single angry parent or kid, though this was the place for cultural friction.

There was a card table that had Kosher treats for sale with a big read locked and bearded man with a nice face and affable manner selling grapefruits, juice boxes and potatochips of uncommon brands (Lieber’s kosher juiceboxes!). This was a big shift from the transformation of the “Country Kitchen” at Grate Adventure off the beaten path by the lake in New Jersey yesterday. I’m not sure what sort of business he did, but he was right in the middle of the park in front of “Break Dance” (a nausea inducing machine that the kids called the best ride ever and I couldn’t even watch gyrate).

On Break Dance there was a RIP Banner for some break dancer from the neighborhood with a photo of him in his glory days spinning on his head. I mention that because the music that Break Dance played yesterday was all heroic Yiddish music, that you could almost call martial. The workers were still all pure Coney Island Carney, Blacks and Whites with Tattoos and urban contemporary styles (on steroids). But the workers and the indigenous consumers contrasted completely with the black and white attire of the crowd yesterday.

By the end of the day the wear was showing on the workers at all the rides. I don’t think that they had yet hired a full compliment of workers for the summer and the veterans who were working had been there all day. Indeed once on the tilt-a-whirl the ride had to close when the grandmother with long grey hair who was manning it had to “visit the scratchbox.” Those are my words, she just shut the ride down with kids waiting in line and walked over to the bathroom and came back. IN fact the staffing was so low that the bathrooms were unmanned and free yesterday (it is usually a quarter a wizz).

After a bout three hours of frenzied riding and mock independence we forced the kids to have some fried food. The food here is no better, and maybe even worse than the amusement park mothership in New Jersey. Well, with one exception, the French Fries (Freedom Fries if you are a Republican) at Coney Island are among the best you can get anywhere. They are of the Nathan’s Krinkle-Kut variety and are something to break a diet for. I also had a Knish with mustard and won’t skip the Cole Slaw again. The food, while by Berkeley or Manhattan standards is uniformly awful, was great; and compared to the grate-america-garden-state-fare was reasonable!

After the food the kids went on the beach and played around in the sand for a hot minute. Near them were dozens of formally dressed kids emerging from the beach: seeing their little black slacks and skirts damp, covered in sand with the creases and pleats all flaccid, sandy and rumbled over reminded me of what their wardrobe seems designed to hide, that they are kids. Their parents were gently beating the sand off of, out of and away from the happy tired kids as the sun set. It was a remarkable Passover for me.

We stayed for another two hours with games, rides and fun for everyone, though when the sun set the log-flume was off the buffet by mutual consent. Each of the kids fished for a stuffy and a great adventure was had by everyone, a real great adventure, one where we learned tolerance and independence. Unlike in New Jersey, where I was trapped, the fact that this was right in New York City, and there were NYers of every stripe and variety (from the post-punk dreadlocked whites to the Borough Royalty with their minivans, tattoos and nicotine). While there were downscale aspects to Astroland, remind me to tell you about the homeless (and amorous) drug addicted salt and pepper couple, there was real spirit there on the board walk too. I think Passover goes on for a day or two more, if you can you should get out to Coney I before the 28th.


6 responses to “Coney Island (Passover Edition)

  1. Happy coincidence with the Opus comic strip today. Thanks, Stafford.

  2. Rogier Gregoire

    It is wonderful to have the luxury of your voice to listen to without the restraint of other topics and interests to intervene. I know this territory although it was last experienced 50 years ago when I was a teenager.

    Thank you is all I can say in response to this gift. I no longer write to you of my travels and observations but hearing from you is enough of a reward.

  3. Frank, I missed the point about opus, tough I liked the Obamanation reference.
    I wish I had time to write all that I see and wonder about: life is strangely grand.

  4. Funny, One of my students, a self-described non religious Jew was also at GRATE adventure. After Coney Island I am SO THROUGH with suburban amusement parks with their monopolistic hostage taking ways.

  5. should i go from haredi moslem to hassidic?

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